Gov. Tom Corbett said he won’t challenge a federal court decision overturning Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, but gay couples fearing that someone might try to take away their newfound right immediately sought marriage licenses on Wednesday.
A successful appeal is “extremely unlikely,” and because of his Roman Catholic faith, “I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Corbett said a statement.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III overturned the state’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage on Tuesday, making Pennsylvania the 19th state to allow gay marriage.
Four couples lined up outside the Allegheny County Marriage License Bureau before it opened — and at least one couple later exchanged vows.
“If there’s some risk of it being appealed, we want to be married,” said Pamela VanHaitsma, 35, who legally tied the knot with Jess Garrity, 38, in front of District Judge Hugh F. McGough.
The couple from Friendship was engaged last year and held a commitment ceremony on Saturday.
Allegheny County received 160 online applications after ing the ruling, five and a half times the number it received on Monday, according to county records.
Toting a bullhorn and Bible, Samuel Jordan, 34, of Uniontown staged a half-hour protest of gay marriage on the Fayette County courthouse steps, declaring homosexuality a “sin” and a “depravity.” No same-sex couples applied for licenses there by the afternoon.
The Westmoreland County Register of Wills office processed its first same-sex marriage applications minutes after the courthouse doors opened. Dennis D. Miller, 35, and Steven Sabol, 38, of New Alexandria said they expect to marry in June.
“I didn’t believe it would happen,” Sabol said. “We’re doing this to basically let the state know we now have equal liberties, the same ones everyone else has.”
Two couples applied for licenses in Butler County, three in Washington County and five in Beaver County, officials said.
Most couples who applied for licenses must wait until Tuesday to pick them up because of a state-mandated three-day waiting period and the Memorial Day holiday.
Garrity and VanHaitsma were the first couple to apply for a marriage license in Allegheny County and won a waiver of the waiting period from Common Pleas Court Judge Lawrence O’Toole. He later issued a waiver to another couple.
The law specifying a waiting period allows exceptions for emergencies, military service and extraordinary circumstances. It’s intended to prevent couples from making rash decisions about marriage, said Sam Hens-Greco, the attorney who handled the request for Garrity and VanHaitsma. The women have known each other for years, and theirs was not a hasty decision, they said.
McGough gave the couple a vase of flowers from his office after the ceremony. He snapped their photo to pin to his bulletin board of happy — and until now, straight — couples.
“We met here; we’re from here. Most of our friends are here. I’m really happy to have Pennsylvania on the marriage license,” Garrity said.
Without a challenge from Corbett, it is unlikely a state lawmaker or conservative group will appeal the decision, said Wes Oliver, a Duquesne University law professor.
“He feels the legal battle can’t be won and felt the political battle of fighting the legal battle isn’t worth fighting,” Oliver said of Corbett. “I think that is a major turning point on this issue.”
Corbett, a Republican, is in the midst of a tough election season and low approval ratings. Analysts have ranked him among the country’s most vulnerable governors. Democrat Tom Wolf, a York County businessman, will challenge Corbett in November.
Courts are considering appeals in Idaho, Utah, Virginia, Michigan and other states where courts struck down gay marriage bans. Four couples sued Montana over its ban on same-sex marriages on Wednesday.
“Mounting an appeal presented a great opportunity for Gov. Corbett to vigorously advocate for the people of Pennsylvania and his own stated belief that marriage is between man and woman,” said Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute. “Instead, to our dismay, he chose to stand down.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or [email protected]. Staff writers Liz Zemba, Rich Cholodofsky and Corinne Kennedy contributed to this report.